Going away to university is challenging for every student, but more so for students who are not merely getting used to a new town and a new school, but an entirely new country! Studying abroad can also be an incredibly exciting experience, and one you’ll remember for the rest of your life. There are many advantages, despite any initial discomfort you may feel. Some would say that without that discomfort, you wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow as a person!
To help you make the most out of the experience, here is a list of the five biggest challenges overseas students tell us they have faced when moving to the UK for the first time. You’ll also find advice on how to overcome them. Lastly, you’ll find a series of tips to surviving your first week at uni.
Speaking the Language
One of the most common problems students face when studying in the UK is the language barrier. Living in a country where almost no one speaks your native language (or one where many speak it, but poorly) can be very isolating. Even if you speak perfectly passable English, the subtle nuances of your native language might take a while to learn.
Well, don’t let that make you feel isolated. There are more people in your position than you might think, and there are definitely ways to overcome this problem. Most universities offer academic English or ESL classes, and you can take online classes as well.
However, if you already speak some English your best bet may be to throw yourself into situations where you need to speak English. It will be uncomfortable, and maybe even embarrassing, but ‘immersion’ is the best way to truly become fluent in a new language. The good news is that you are in one of the best places in the world to learn English.
Fitting in culturally
This is another challenge altogether. Every region or city has its own unique culture, and people moving in from outside can feel like outsiders. This can be all the more extreme if you find yourself living with one or more roommates, something very common for university students.
You can minimise this by researching UK culture before you move. Your experience is very common, and there are plenty of detailed guides to the most baffling behaviours you’ll see. In time, you’ll understand what is going on and know what to expect. Until then, don’t hesitate to ask your friends and colleagues what different behaviours and events ‘really’ mean. Most will be happy to explain.
Learning in new ways
Another issue is that the UK’s learning and teaching methods may be very different from what you’re used to. The fact that you may be studying in English for the first time can also be difficult.
Like many other issues, the best answer is to be prepared. Look into the learning and teaching methods each school uses (we can help with that), and read about how these work. Once you know what is expected of you, it will be much easier to ‘learn to learn’ in a new way.
All of this can make you homesick. This is normal, and doesn’t make you ‘strange’. It doesn’t mean you ‘aren’t cut out for this’. Homesickness is to be expected when you move thousands of miles away and dive into an unfamiliar culture.
The good news is that there are ways to combat this. Ways that simply didn’t exist even in your parents’ generation. Modern communications technology lets you stay connected with your friends and family back home. After all, they probably miss you as much as you miss them. Set up a conferencing solution such as Skype or any of its many competitors before you go. It is typically free, and you can ‘see’ each other regularly. Social media is a good method of free and easy communication too, even on the go.
Handling your finances
Students often struggle financially. You’ll discover that many things cost substantially more than they did at home, especially if you move to a very large, expensive city like London.
There are many ways to help ease the financial burden on yourself and your family. You can live efficiently, reduce education and living expenses, and increasing the resources you have available. For example:
- Seek out scholarships, bursaries and other sources of funds for students. Not only will your university have funds available, they will usually have a department dedicated to helping you find funds from other sources. Do your research, and apply for help wherever you can get it.
- Depending on your immigration status and a few other factors, you may be able to get a job on campus or in the larger community. Most university towns have a lot of part time work opportunities. Your university can advise you on what kinds of work you can take.
- Learn to cook. Not only will you eat healthier food, it is dramatically less expensive than eating take-away every day.
- Set some cash aside for emergencies. These come up more often than you might expect, and they will be a lot less stressful if you have set aside resources to deal with them.
Remember, the first week can be the hardest!
Study abroad can be frightening, stressful, and full of homesickness at first. But it doesn’t have to be that way for long! In fact, most universities set the first week of any undergraduate course aside as a ‘Freshers’ Week’ to help first year students (traditionally called ‘freshmen’) get acquainted with their new surroundings.
To make the whole process easier, we’ve assembled a list of seven tips for surviving Fresher’s week. If you can manage to do one each day, you’ll find you’re fitting in at your new school in no time.
- Keep an open mind about the people you meet
This isn’t easy, and will take some practice. You’ll meet a lot of people, many of whom will seem very strange. Remember, though, that many of them are nearly as stressed out and confused as you are! Give them the benefit of the doubt, and resist the temptation to dismiss anyone because of how alien they seem. This is a great opportunity to meet new people. Make the most of it.
- Join clubs, societies and teams – as many as you can
There will probably be opportunities during Freshers Week to learn about all the clubs and student organisations at your new university. If not, ask about clubs and societies at the Student’s Union. Join any that sound even a little interesting. This is usually free, and is a great way to find common ground to meet new people. Also, if you find you really don’t enjoy some of them, you can just as easily quit. That’s expected.
- Make a real effort to become friends with your roommates.
It can be easy to be put off by living with strangers. They will seem odd, and all the more so up close. If you can forge a friendship, your living situation will be that much more comfortable, and you’ll have a close friend all through your university days. Look past their awkwardness and strangeness, so that they can look past yours!
- Decorate your personal space to reflect what is important to you.
Not only will this reduce the homesickness you feel, it might be the first chance you’ve had to really ‘make a space your own’. Having a place to retreat to which is ‘all you’ will be a huge relief when homesickness hits you.
- Manage your money carefully.
You and your new friends will have wildly different budgets and spending habits. That is normal. Keep an eye on your pennies, and don’t be afraid to say “I’d love to, but I can’t afford that right now”. No one will think less of you, and you’ll be saving yourself a lot of headaches later. Adopting unrealistic spending habits just to fit in can be catastrophic!
- Don’t overlook all the discounts available to students, though!
University towns love their student population, and many local businesses will offer reduced rates for anyone with a student ID. That includes national and international brands like Apple Music, Nike and Microsoft, all of whom offer discounts to university students.
- Remember to have a little fun!
It can be overwhelming, but you should allow yourself to have a little fun from time to time. Especially during Fresher’s Week, when you have much less responsibility than you will for the rest of your university career!
This is going to be an incredible experience that you will remember forever. It is normal to be a little frightened, this is a big step! But you’ll do fine! Make the most of it, and don’t let your worries stop you from having a good time!